When the moon is high and the lights are shining, the view from Chroy Changvar is magical.
On this side of the Tonle Sap, the colored lights and burgeoning skyline of the capital’s city center gleam bright. The rowdy rush hour gives way to cruising speed and the roar of traffic is replaced with the laughter of listless youths walking hand in hand along the promenade.
On the banks below, a line of slender blue boats sit in wait. The vessels are multipurpose. On the cool illuminated nights the canoe like “tuk nesat” is a home to rest, and in the heat of the morning sun, a vocational lifeline.
Under the cover of night, 42-year-old Ly Roasa emerges. Each morning at three or four, he must rise to collect the bounty he hopes awaits him — a full fishing net. But more often than not, the catch is meager.
Two of his young children have not been to school in a week. When earnings are low, the fisherman cannot afford to pay their daily private school tuition — a few thousand riel — and the nearest government school is just too far.
Mr. Roasa began learning how to fish as a boy when he was six. In Prey Veng, his father taught him how to run a boat, cast a net and earn a living. But mastering the unpredictable whims of nature is a lesson much harder learned.
For eight years he has been teaching his 16-year-old son as he was taught by his father.
“Teaching my son to fish is a family obligation,” he says while peering through bright, honey-colored eyes.
“Just like my father taught me, I have to continue passing on the tradition.”
A few boats down, 35-year-old Sok Mert employs a different method. Instead of setting “trap” nets to collect fish, Mr. Mert utilizes the trawling method. A large net is attached to the bottom of his boat, and as it cuts through the water it captures any fish in its path. Through this method, Mr. Mert is able to capture more fish than his neighbor, but he must also do more work.
From the early morning hours until 3pm, when buyers descend to the waterfront, the fisherman trawls the waters of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers – working up to 12 hours each day.
For this he earns about 50,000 riel a day (about $12.50)and his three to four kilogram catch always sells out, making its way to a troop of the capital’s bustling wet markets.
With a bigger boat, Mr. Mert is able to survive through times when fish are light — and these days the load is lean. But the loneliness is something different. His wife and four daughters live in Koh Thom, Kandal province,where he visits them once a year.
“I miss them but I try not to think about that too much. If I miss them then we cannot eat.”